Independent Freaks vs. Geeks: Fantastic Arcade vs. IndieCade


Posted September 20, 2011 - By Rob Manuel

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Freaks vs. Geeks

When pitching this weekly indie column, I turned to the one idea that has permeated every article that I’ve written so far – get indie games into the hands of the people and they will demand more. For every complaint about a worn out title bought off the shelf, there’s an indie game that addresses that very complaint and does it well. Worlds you can never dream of and heroes that break molds instead of heads wait out there to be found. But finding them is a completely different question. As I mentioned in my last article, writers and bloggers started sorting through the shards of glass for diamonds. But there is still another way to get some of the best games you’ve never heard of into your hands – festivals.

Controllers and hands; there’s nothing more pure than that. Two indie game festivals released their lists of games that they’re showings. If the stars at night are big and bright, then maybe you can make it this week down to Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, home of the largest genre film festival and of the second annual Fantastic Arcade, which runs September 22 to 29. Kids on the West Coat will need to wait a couple more weeks for IndieCade to open up in beautiful Downtown Culver City on October 8 – 9. Of course, the sensible way to address these two festivals would be to run down their respective lists of indie titles to compare and contrast the narratives being woven by their choices.

Or we could just set up a Pit Fight. That’s right. In traditional internet-style, two festivals vie for dominance through bare-chested brute force. Two shall enter. One shall leave. The message boards will be lit on fire and be already bared the exits. Let’s get it on!


Fantastic Arcade

Challenger: Fantastic Arcade

Years Running: 2 Years

When: September 22 – 25th

Location: Austin, Texas

Number of Games: 20+

Games that take on Religion and Evolution: One (Jesus Vs. Dinosaurs)

Can I Play FEZ there: Yes

Known more for their films than their games, Fantastic Fest brings together films on the bleeding edge of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. This wild west of the film world premiered the likes of There Will Be Blood, City of Ember, and Zombieland just to name a few. The inclusion of indie games seems like a natural step for an event always looking for a new way to spin a tale, and isn't shy about adding a gallon of blood to it. They Bleed Pixels takes the player on an adventure of endless pits and spikes coated in blood. Imagine taking the plaforming of Super Meat Boy and populating the world with enemies filled with a ton of blood. If you prefer shotguns over claws, Capsized takes you to an alien world for you to explore through physics, a little jetpack fuel, and a loaded gun. The alien inhabitants only come in one variety – fast and deadly. Fantastic Arcade lives up to its name by bringing pure visceral fun to the small screen. No quarters needed.

But that’s not a fair assessment of everything Fantastic Arcade has to offer. Fans entering these halls will get to experience some rather deep stories and experience some of the most amazing adventures from the safety of a monitor and a heavy dose of air conditioning. In a Myst-like world set to the backbeat of Tron, FRACT lets players explore and solve mysteries – candy necklaces are not included. Octodad, one of my personal favorites, puts a squishy mollusk inside a polyester suit as you try to keep your existence as an octopus secret from your human family by accomplishing simple chores – one tentacle at a time. And there are games like Deep Sea that requires you to put on a mask and try to survive by sound alone.

It should come to no surprise that you’ve probably seen many of these games in this year’s IGF. Brandon Boyer, chairman of the IGF, along with Mike Plante and Eddo Stern, curators of last year’s Fantastic Arcade, all bring what they consider to be the cutting edge of indie gaming to a fan base looking for some new blood.


Challenger: IndieCade

Years Running: 4 Years
When: October 8-9th
Location: Culver City, California
Number of Games: 36+
Number of Games about creating games: 1 (Gamestar Mechanic)
Can I Play FEZ there: Yes

Step into any of the galleries surrounding beautiful downtown Culver City around IndieCade and you'll enter into the future of gaming. Some of the games you get your hands on here, you won’t find anywhere else. This year, I’m excited to finally get my hands on Terry Cavanagh’s At a Distance. From the mastermind who brought us VVVVV, comes a new game where two players simply need to figure out the rule. Yup, it’s that kind of a game. Knowing more than that would only spoil the journey. Then you have the games that blur the lines with reality like Johann Sebastian Joust. Keep your phone upright while trying to knock down the phones of others. What can seem like anti-social behavior is actually a mixture of technology with old fashioned play. Remember that stuff kids? Imagination. Thinking. Having enough sense to wipe the drool off your face. A sense of wonder.

As before, this only tells part of the story. Games like Sword & Sworcery EP, FEZ, and Skulls of the Shogun leap from festival to festival pushing new mechanics and visceral experiences. In the end, this little pit fight was little more than a ruse to demonstrate how different approaches to indie games can often lead to the same and awesome results: getting awesome hands into the hands of gamers.

Final Round

I return back to my original statement - get indie games into the hands of the people and they will demand more. Even it that means putting a physical controller in their hands and pressing start, then that is what it takes to bring them into the world of pushing the boundaries of gaming and the technology tied to it. While I won’t be able to make it to Fantastic Fest (Kevin Kelly got that lucky assignment, you won’t be able to drag me away from IndieCade. We need more festivals like these to not only bring games to the people but to elevate ideas and stories that would otherwise not get the deserving attention that they require. Five or so years from now, we could see an indie festival tied to every movie or art celebration from coast to coast. Maybe one of these days we’ll think of the title of gamer the same way we think of the moniker movie-goer.

Can’t Make It to the Festivals? Here’s What You Should Do….

What You Should Play: Radical Fishing

I know that I’ve talked about this before but if you still haven’t played it, then it’s new to you. Sink your line into the murky depths as far as you can go while avoiding fish. As soon as you hook your first catch, it’s up again as you try to hook everything else along the way. Fish fly into the air as you reel them in. Take out your gun and shoot them into little bitty pieces for fun and profit. That chummy money goes into longer lines, better, guns, and a chainsaw.

What You Should Play: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure

Why haven’t you played this point-and-click adventure designed by a 5 year-old? Do you hate fun? Magic? The bastard children of ponies and unicorns? Just spend a couple of hours playing through the adventure that only a kid could have created and I promise that you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

What You Should Buy: PewPewPewPewPewPewPew

Finally use your mouth for something than just yelling at people online. Pew lets you and another motor mouth friend control a ship with sound in this side scrolling shooter. Shoot by making a “pew” sound into a microphone. Move the ship up and down by yelling “up” or “down” into a second microphone. You may just run out of breath before you run out of lives.

What You Should Buy: Super Crate Box

You only get points for collecting boxes and every box holds a new weapon. Super Crate Box brings the kinetic action of the arcades into a whole new light as you try to dodge, avoid, and massacre an endless supply of enemies while collecting boxes. Don’t get attached to that shotgun for too long as with every box holds a new weapon and a new challenge as you try to make your way to the next one.

Independent Freaks vs. Geeks: Fantastic Arcade vs. IndieCade